Each year, I organize about a half dozen cannabis competitions throughout the western part of the United States. Because of my position within the cannabis industry, I get many questions about cannabis competitions: what are they? How are they run? Who judges them? Who enters them? What do the results mean?
I will do my best to answer those questions, but will most likely raise many more. In most cases, I will be referring to the cannabis competitions in which I take part in organizing as part of the Cannabis Classic, but may also note what other competitions do in an attempt to point out “best practices.”
What is a cannabis competition? It is a tasting event by cannabis connoisseurs of large numbers of cannabis strains to determine their relative quality. Some competitions, like the Cannabis Classic competition, are “blind” tasting events.
What is a “blind” tasting? No, the judges do not wear blindfolds. A blind tasting simply means the judges have no idea what specific strain they are sampling. As it pertains to the Cannabis Classic, the judges usually know strain category (hybrid, indica, sativa); but they never know the brand, specific strain, or grower.
Instead, each sample is packaged into identical 1” by 1” glass containers with white plastic tops that are coded by number or letter.
Do the judges test each sample in one sitting? The Cannabis Classic competition provides the judges with approximately one-month to work through all of the samples that are in the judges kit. This process gives the judges ample time to assess each sample thoroughly and accurately.
Which cannabis products are judged? The ones that are entered. This might be obvious, but it really depends on the scope of the competition, and which growers, breeders, processors, and product producers choose to enter. The Cannabis Classic accepts all cannabis products, including flowers, concentrates, edibles, tinctures, topicals, etc. However, the Classic is a state competition, which means it is limited to cannabis and cannabis products that are produced in the state the competition is being held.
Within the framework of each competition, it is really the growers and product producers themselves which determine the cannabis strains and products that are tasted. Some growers submit many strains and products in multiple competitions; others just a few; and still others none. The decision to enter may depend on a grower’s size, marketing strategy, or opinion about the value of cannabis competitions in its overall business or philosophy.
I know one highly successful California cannabis operation that spends upwards of $25,000 annually in cannabis competition entry fees, and said it got that back 10x in terms of publicity, seed deals, product sales, and industry support. A successful Washington state cannabis cultivator has chosen not to enter any competitions at all (mainly due to state regulations). Obviously, if you don’t enter, you can’t win, but to some, that simply may not matter.
Who are the judges? They are a diverse group of cannabis connoisseurs from many different backgrounds who all have two things in common: a passion for cannabis, and daily exposure to it. The judges for the Cannabis Classic must pass our judges certificate program to ensure competency amongst our judges, while other competitions may hand-pick industry insiders or experts. Ideally, the judges come from different walks-of-life because they bring different perspectives to the table, which is how we continue to grow and improve.
How are the samples judged? Each cannabis strain and product is judged on its own merits rather than as part of a ranking. In other words, 50 cannabis strains will not be ranked 1 to 50, but rather will earn an award based on its aggregated scores. For example, in a particular category, let’s say Best Sativa, there might be 1 Gold, 5 Silver, and 3 Bronze medals, and 6 receiving no award.
The flowers are graded on a 100-point scale and are judged on its appearance, aroma, taste, and effect. The scoring is weighted with appearance and aroma worth 30-points each, while the taste and effect are worth 20-points each.
In the past, concentrates and edibles have been graded on the same system, with the same criteria; but Classic officials are reconstructing the scoring system and judging criteria for those categories. Currently, there isn’t an industry standard or best practice when it comes to evaluating concentrates and edibles.
Judges have approximately one-month to complete their evaluations. Once the judges have completed the judging process, they submit their scorebooks and officials aggregate the scores.
But, aren’t judges too high to properly evaluate each sample? The Cannabis Classic gives competition judges plenty of time to get through the judges kit. It’s important to us that each sample is evaluated on a level playing field. We advise judges, and give them time, to evaluate three samples per day.
What do the results mean? Essentially, a cannabis competition is one moment in time. The results reflect the collective opinions of judges about a specific group of cannabis products during a particular period of time. But, there is a lot of consistency among different competitions held in different places at different times. So, cannabis competitions really do provide good insight as to which strains and products are hottest on the market.
Over the last three-years, I have been involved in nearly 10 cannabis competitions. Yes, it’s fun, but it’s also hard work if you’re aware about being fair to every strain and product entered. It’s hard because the strain- and product-quality have become so much better. Breeders, growers, processors, and producers have made a commitment to quality, raising the bar, and making it harder to discern a Gold from a Silver, or a Silver from a Bronze. Thanks to their efforts, the industry, as a whole, is in a really nice spot for years to come.